The Last Man Never Born
A Short Story
The heavy, steel fire escape door shut behind Michael with an ominous thud. Its closure was the punctuation at the end of the penultimate chapter of his life. All that remained was the dawn sky that enveloped him.
Michael stood, wavering between shallow, quick breaths. He cast off his sweaty, baggy jacket onto the dirty, damp concrete rooftop. He felt momentarily disoriented by the distinct shortage of structural or earthen visual queues. With merely a short parapet wall wrapping around the edge of the roof, his view consisted of primarily empty, dimly-blue sky.
He took a few weak steps ahead, toward one side of the parapet wall. Anxiety pulsed in the back of his mind. The authorities wouldn’t be far behind him. He had only a minute or two of solitude left before they were upon him again. He knew what would come after his apprehension, and he wanted no part of that dehumanizing, macabre process.
Dozens of stories above the earth, Michael could hear the din of the city below breathing deeply, coming back to life for another day. The people below tried their best to live as though the world wasn’t ruined beyond recognition. While Michael savored his every breath of fresh, unfiltered air, billions of his fellow human creatures attempted to go about their daily lives.
A fissure in the tattered fabric of a crumbling society had swallowed Michael whole not long before he stood, gloriously free again, atop that gritty rooftop. At first, people had crowded around him, screaming praises and joyous cries. Eventually though, in one quick twist of fate, he fell, and the cries could no longer reach his ears. The grim, black at the bottom of the fissure held him tightly, blocking out all else.
Michael dropped his arms onto the short parapet, grateful down to his soul, for something sturdy upon which he could rest. The maddening drumming of exhaustion and anxiety suspended his perceptions of vertigo, peering out at the city below.
In his whole life up to till that crisp dawn, he hadn’t ever looked at his city from a rooftop vantage point. He felt regret sloshing, burning in his stomach. Things would have been different — he would have been different, had he only known what the price of his temporary fame would cost him.
The blackness, deep in that fissure, had used Michael till he was spent and desiccated. It was while his continued usefulness was being debated that he had seized upon a slim chance for freedom. He had nothing else to lose. Nothing else could have been worse than what he had already endured.
Michael sighed in relief, stroking what thin threads of peace he could reach. A twist of fate had dropped him into the damnation of that fissure, but it, or something akin to it, had given him one last chance to see the sun. He wouldn’t waste it by delaying the inevitable, putting his fleeting, blessed freedom at risk.
Grasping firmly upon that freedom, Michael pushed a narrow knee up onto the parapet wall. His weak, atrophied muscles struggled to pull his body weight upward, requiring several attempts before he had himself laying in an awkward prone position atop the wall.
Updrafts of wind howled in his ears as he slowly rotated himself and lowered his bare feet onto the narrow ledge on the opposite side of the parapet. His heart pounded in his chest as he looked downward, vertigo finally piercing through all else. He sat upon the literal edge of his life. In that moment, he felt his freedom in every fiber of his being.
The darkness of the fissure could never again reach him where he was going. A little, errant worry in the back of his mind wondered what sort of damnation he was condemning the billions who would remain. He knew that his death: the demise of humankind’s last male-bodied individual, could perhaps be the end of his species.
Kindness had been his undoing. It was the force that had pushed him into the fissure. He had forced himself to push aside what he knew was true in his heart to help others — to save others. But every sperm they removed from his body felt like a violation of his personal truth. And yet, he did it because he felt an obligation. He did what others expected him to do.
His freedom was born of selfishness, but the fissure had torn away everything but his truth. Denying that was the final violation he could never permit. Once all else had faded and fallen away, abandoned in the darkness at the bottom of the fissure, his truth was all he had left.
Shaking and trembling, Michael stood and lifted his gaze to the rising sun. Its radiance poured over him, warming his heart. In that warmth, he acknowledged that the last human man had died long before the fissure had found him.
The morning light illuminated his truth into a shining beacon. He took a long step forward. She saw her path home.